(Orig. Published in Home Waters, A Fly-Fishing Anthology Fireside. This was published many years ago by my roommate Ted Williams.  When you see something in parenthesis, it is my comment)

 

 

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We piled the rest of the gear into the canoe and slid it down the path to the water…  With about two inches of freeboard, I paddled to the spring. No-Birds met me there and reached out to steady the bow while I swung my feet over the gunwale, scattering the trout fry that hung in the spring’s shallow overflow.   “Hey,” he said, “Aimé’s boat isn’t here.”

We unloaded, pitched the tent, and put our rods together.   Then we pushed off in the canoe to look for the boat. It is an ancient, square-ended, flat-bottomed affair that Aimé built twenty-five years ago when there was no road, with lumber he’d hauled in from Elmont.  Like everything Aimé builds it is indestructible. No-Birds loves to fish from it because it doesn’t tip or swing in the wind when he anchors over the spring hole. “I don’t relish fishing out of this canoe with you, Williams,” he said.

We found Aimé’s boat drifting in front of the beaver house, nearly submerged and with both anchors gone.  No-Birds did not speak for a full minute. Then, in his controlled courtroom voice, he said, “The Canadians have done this to me.”  The Canadians–who, according to No-Birds, drive Cadillacs to within a mile and a half of the pond on a “superhighway” that runs in from Megantic–are among the many tests the Lord has devised for him.  They keep two aluminum boats chained to a tree on the western shore.

As we bailed Aimé’s boat we found, under the seat, a plastic bag filled with sand and tied to a length of squidding line.  “Look at that,” shouted No-Birds. “That’s their anchor! I’m telling you, Williams, there’s nothing stupider than a C’nuck, nothing. One spring I’m in here with Aimé and we hear this put-a-put-a-put-a-put-a-put.  You know what they’d done?  They’d carried an outboard motor in here.  Can you imagine that? They’d lugged an outboard motor a mile and a half through the pucker brush!  And then, when they got done, they lugged it back!”

“Let’s go fishing,” I said.

But now No-Birds was in full cry.  “They worm the piss out of this pond! And don’t think they drive through customs to buy a Maine license.  And don’t think they quit at eight trout. God, would I love to take an ax to their boats!”

No-Birds found two new anchor rocks, then poled off toward the spring hole.  I drafted along the north shore, under the mountain, flicking out a little Mickey Finn and twitching it back.  There still was no sign of feeding activity on top, but salamanders were floating up to sip little somethings from the surface film.  Secret Pond is clear, but not sterile-clear. When you kneel and lean over it to drink, and then shade your eyes with your hands while the ripples tickle the tip of your nose, you can see tiny globular creatures sculling around.  There are no chubs or dace–only wild brook trout with scarlet, ivory-edged fins and chestnut flanks flecked with ruby and sapphire. No-Birds swears he can distinguish them from all other trout solely by their taste.

I worked the whole fishless shore, constantly distracted by splashing from the spring hole.  Every time I looked, No-Birds was kneeling in the bilge, rod high, arm straining out with the landing net.  He stripped the fast-sinking line with quick little jerks, his rod tip motionless and six inches under the surface, setting only with the line the way Jerome had always insisted he do it.  Presently, his line hand flew from his waist to his ear like an umpire after a clean tag at home plate. Missing the strike, he flung his hat on the seat, then missed another as he bent to pick it up.

“You doing any good?” I asked.

“I got ’em coming,” he admitted.  “And are they colored up! C’mere. But slow. Don’t spook ’em. Just drift in.”

He held the gunwale and flipped me the Canadians’ anchor line.  “Here,” he said. “Tie up so’s it don’t bang.”

“Let’s see your fish.”

“Under the seat.”

There were five, all over a pound and in full spawning colors.  He had arranged them so that their broad maroon tails were in a perfect line.

“Get in,” he said.  “Quietly.”

“Nah, I’m going down to the outlet.”

“C’mon, get in, Williams.   Don’t be foolish.”

But I pushed off and continued on my way.  It was not all chivalry on my part. No-Birds doesn’t throw a bad line, but he is never satisfied with his distance and keeps double-hauling until sometimes the line gets away from him and coils around his shoulders like a corn snake on a rat.  And his droppers increase by a factor of three your chances of getting snagged. Once I’d told him that he should be glad for whatever distance he had and just shoot; that, in trying for the moon, he lost everything. And he’d answered: “You know, Williams, you’re right.  That’s my problem with everything I do — golf, court, sex, everything.”

(He said it and that was my reply, but I never changed.  Double hauling was a problem of mine.)

Down by the outlet the deep hole in front of the beaver dam was shaded by a floating carpet of maple leaves.  There was fresh beaver activity even though Aimé had trapped out the pond the previous winter, partly because the two Daviaus had convinced each other and him that the beavers spoil the fishing by raising the water level.  The only weakness in the theory is that there are always beavers and the pond produces more trout now than it did sixty years ago when there were no beavers within thirty miles and Aimé still fished with worms.

(I never saw Aime fish with worms, but he was not an accomplished fly fisherman either.  He would cast his fly eight feet from the boat, let it sink and lift the fly straight up off the bottom.  I would cast at least 40 feet and drag the fly back. Problem was he had to be on the fish and I needed to be thirty feet from them.  He did amazingly well—and this was forty years ago. Of course, he was nymph fishing when none of us knew about it. Lifting your fly straight off the bottom correctly mimics mother nature.  The fly in its sack comes straight off the bottom and hits the surface and crawls out of its sack and flies off. Many fishermen fish exactly like Aime did.)

In the middle of the cove, where the water is only three feet deep, a good fish flashed up from the mossy bottom and snatched the Mickey Finn.  I set hard, knocking the paddle into the water, and saw him streak under the canoe. Before I could strip in a foot of slack he was in the pool by the dam.  I felt the line tighten against my index finger and thrilled at the marvelous power pulsing through the graphite. Then I played him off the reel, trying to work him out of the hole.  Twice I had him up over the lip into the shallow water and twice he lunged back. At last he came–with violent head shakes, and I felt him burying into the moss and scrubbing his jaw against the underlying gravel.  He surfaced with a headdress of moss, and I knew he was mine, or rather Aimé’s. I led him in, caressed his silken sides until he lay still, then gradually tightened my grip and hoisted him aboard. He was big even for Secret Pond, with flattened sides, a jutting lower jaw, and all the colors of the surrounding hillsides.

That night three juvenile otters frolicked along the shoreline, No-Birds feigning outrage and vowing to report them to Aimé.  We sat by the fire, listening to barred owls and watching the sparks and smoke from the dry spruce rise straight up into the infinite northern night.

“They got a lot of this in Massachusetts?” inquired No-Birds with another grand sweep of his arm.  He shoveled two more trout onto his plate and took a long pull of spring-chilled beer. Then he said, “You oughta see Fatso eat these fish.”

“Which one? Violette or Carter?”

“Well,” said No-Birds, pausing reflectively.  “I was thinking of Carter, but….”

(One of the best creative writing lines I have ever read. He tells the reader that both are fat but lets us connect the dots. Good writing.)

“I’ve seen it,” I said.

“Too bad, though, eatin’ em like this in the fall when they’ve lost so much flavor.”  He belched and sucked his greasy fingers.

We heard the train at midnight–a faint him that grew louder over the span of about fifteen minutes and then diminished for another fifteen until it was well into Canada and you couldn’t tell if you were still hearing or just remembering.

Hours later, it seemed, when the night was even blacker, No-Birds jabbed me in the ribs with his elbow.  In semi sleep, I wondered what the hell he was doing crashing around in the woods, then realized he was in the tent with me.  “What’s that?” he hissed. It sounded as if mature trees were being snapped off at their roots and hurled onto the pond.

“His Satanic Majesty, I guess.”

Presently, we could hear snorting.

“Eee B’twais! It’s a damned moose.  They would just as soon go through a tent as around it.  Williams, we’re dead!”

The crashing, splashing, and snorting got louder and closer.  Now we could feel the ground shaking.

“Ah-ga-ga-ga-ga-ga-ga,” declared No-Birds.  Then there was just splashing that gradually faded into the night.

After much commentary, No-Birds settled down.  I was almost asleep when he said, “Hey, Williams.”

“What?”

“if Aimé’s been in, he’s gonna think it was us did that to his boat.”

“Nah, he’ll know it was the Canadians.”

“Yeah,” said No-Birds.  “I been thinking about that.  I don’t think it was the Canadians.”

“Who, then?”

“Clarence Boudreau.  He hates me enough.”

No-Birds had a point.  I had met the friendly, rheumy-eyed old man here three summers before.  He and a companion from Coburn Gore had hiked in from the Canadian side, not to fish trough but to drink whiskey.  He’d goggled at my Massachusetts plates, stating in his 78-rpm French Canadian dialect that he had now seen everything.  After he had poured me a drink and interrogated me about how I’d found the pond, he’d explained that when he used to be in the paper business one of the Daviaus–it was not exactly clear which one–had either sued him or overcharged him or, possibly, both.

I allowed to No-Birds that if Boudreau had been at Secret Pond, Aimé would probably know about it.

“You bet he will,” said No-Birds.  “You don’t come into The Enchanted country, mister, with Aimé LeCours’ knowing it.”

In the morning I lay on my back inside the tent, looking up at the frost canopy through the thin, wet cloth, and inhaling the wonderful fragrance of woods and water.  I could hear red squirrels scuttling around the camp, and somewhere far away a raven croaked. After many years I had finally come to agree with the Daviaus that there is never any point to fishing Secret Pond before the sun is well up.  “She turns on at nine o’clock,” says No-Birds. “You can set your watch by it.”

(Not quite true.  Secret Pond is great at dawn in June but after June it is a waste of time.  Evening is the same—June only. Most ponds are like that.)

No-Birds struggled out of his sleeping bag like a hatching mayfly, pulled on his Bean boots, and crawled into the morning.  “Blue sky,” he conceded grudgingly. Pretty soon he started frying the bacon, something he never permits anyone else to do. I was halfway out the tent when a clanging and banging arose from the western shore.  It was the Canadians.

MARKET REPORT

Incredibly good which assures Trump’s re-election.  I have given up following that, for now. The Democrats are too numerous to muster a real challenge.  One of the strangest things I have ever seen is the ten-year bond rate so low in a great economy. No president gets any credit for it.  Not in my book. Another incredible story is the middle east nearly at all-out war and oil is benign. Years ago, oil would have run up to 125 dollars at that news.  We were told that the world was out of oil—yeah right!